In recent years, there has been a revolution in the world of television. Sets are getting smarter, laden with features and have displays that are becoming thinner and sharper. We have seen the growth of service providers offering us a range and viewing, recording and catch up services. We may also now require our TV to be a games monitor, internet portal and even a video conferencing tool.
So what’s important when it comes to buying a new TV ‘rig’ in the UK and what features will ‘future proof’ your vision set-up? It’s not just what you need now but what you might need soon. Here are our top 6 things to consider when buying your next TV package.
1. Multi-device decision
Buying a TV is no longer just about, well, buying a TV. You need to ask yourself what do I want my TV to do?
In answering this question, you may identify that you need more than just a TV, you might also need the functionality to add a Personal Video Recorder (PVR), such as a Freeview+ box, a set top box for premium services such as Virgin or Sky, a games console or a webcam to use apps such as Skype.
2. TV content
Following the switch off of the final UK analogue TV signals last year, most new UK TV’s now come with integrated digital receiving capabilities, such as Freeview HD, that provide a variety of ‘free to air’ channels.
While many of us may not have the need for any content beyond these free to air channels, the TV landscape is changing and it is prudent to make sure that your new TV has the facility to add a set top box from an additional content provider.
Buying a new TV set up is also the perfect time to review your existing content provider. Do I use the premium services I am paying for? Do I need a different package or even provider?
3. Recording TV
One of the biggest advances related to the advent of Digital TV has been the ability to record TV to a Personal Video Recorder (PVR), quickly and easily. Programmes are stored on a hard disk inside a dedicated set top box. Content can be viewed at leisure and stored for as long a you like.
Some higher end TV’s may have an integrated Freeview+ recorder, but the most cost effective option is likely to be a separate set top box which will require either a one off payment or signing up to a paid subscription package, in the case of the premium service providers.
4. Catch-up TV
Catch up TV services such as the BBC’s iPlayer are becoming very popular and enable you to watch TV programmes via the internet. Their chief use, as the name suggests, is to catch up on missed TV shows. Many modern Smart TV’s can now connect to the internet and offer access to these popular ‘on demand’ TV services.
The question is, should you look at a separate box to do this for you? YouView offers various catch up TV services at a relatively low cost, giving you another way of watching your favourite TV programmes. Most premium service providers also offer these features as part of their subscription packages.
5. Internet Connectivity
The majority of mid to high range TV’s on sale in the UK allow you to connect to the internet for watching catch up TV, and film subscription services like Netflix, Internet browsing, checking email, social media and even video conferencing.
However, the likes of YouView and Apple TV also provide similar services and in the case of Apple TV, also allow you to connect other Apple devices like an iPhone or iPad to the TV, wirelessly, using Airplay, providing even more content viewing options.
Premium service providers also offer some internet based features as part of their subscription packages, so it is worth checking out all the options.
Having TV internet connectivity is very useful but here’s a note of caution because it has its limitations. Many internet based tasks, such as web browsing perhaps don’t lend themselves to the shared viewing experience of TV. Also internet TV user interfaces are often less ‘usable’ than a tablet computer.
6. TV Specification
TV manufacturers offer us a vast array of features; 3D, HD, WiFi, Plasma, LCD, LED and digital video recording to name a few.
There is no substitute for trying before you buy. Test your prospective new screen in a similar environment to that of home by watching the picture at a similar distance and angle. Check the sound is adequate too, there are many sound upgrade options if you need one.
As a rule of thumb higher refresh rates and faster processors (both measured in Hz) enable a TV to ‘keep up’ with fast action such as motor racing, a football match or a blockbuster movie. Watch out for shadowing and blurring when testing TV’s, this may indicate corners have been cut in these areas.
The current high definition standard for TV’s in the UK is 1080p resolution, make sure your TV has that. If you want 3D capabilities, especially for movies, make sure your chosen TV supports it.
Perhaps the most important rule is check you like the picture. It sounds silly but it’s so easy to get swept away with the mechanics of the buying process that you forget to check you ‘like’ the TV.
You are in Control
The TV landscape, at first glance, appears a little fragmented at present, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Unlike, for example, the Smartphone and App market, where there are increasing moves by the big providers to create hardware and software ‘walled gardens’, the good news is that you are pretty much in complete control of all provider and service options. It is worth the effort researching the features you need from your TV at present and also what you may find useful in the near future.
When selecting a TV, maybe we should be using the computer model and treat it as just a display. You can then look for the picture that best suits your needs in terms of clarity, viewing angle, 3D support and display technology. Your PVR, catch-up service, media renderer, etc. can then all be provided independently from whichever services suit best. It feels strange to be arguing against convergence of services but maybe this is the holy grail for the consumer, complete control to choose and change at will.
Larry Dyde is Associate Technical Director of 3 Sheep Ltd. When he’s not buying new televisions, he is managing and creating beautiful digital solutions for 3 Sheep clients. Contact Larry to talk about how 3 Sheep could be helping your company.